| Grooming

Grooming: How to react

| 11 Nov 2023

What do you see when you see a message from an online predator? Can children recognize it for what it is if or when they see it? And how should they react? Get to know some of the common techniques employed by online groomers and discuss the warning signs and appropriate reactions with your child. Use this article as a tool for prevention and work together with your child to ensure they have safe experiences online.


“Hey! You´re so pretty! How are you? Are you bored? Me too! Can you send me some pictures of yourself? Wanna talk about boys? Ever kissed anyone?”

What is suspicious about this?
  • Immediately complimenting the child
  • Asking for inappropriate details
  • Requesting pictures

How should your child react?

It is common for groomers to use compliments to make a child feel special and valued. This is not to say that all compliments are a way of manipulation, but your child should certainly be cautious if words of praise come too early and become too frequent. 

When it comes to controversial topics, your child should know that it is natural to be somewhat intrigued by them, but getting into these types of conversations with strangers almost always leads to risky or uncomfortable scenarios. Encourage your child to be cautious when online, to take screenshots when receiving inappropriate messages, and to end any conversation that has become uncomfortable.


“Hi, back from school already? I hate school. Home is better! Are you home alone? Mom working late again? So… we only have a few minutes to chat? Let´s make the most of it.”

What is suspicious about this?

  • Mapping out the territory 
  • Getting to know the family situation
  • Making sure they (the predator) remain undetected
How should your child react?

First off, your child should know that not everyone who claims to relate to their situation – for instance by saying “I hate school too!” – is a trustworthy person. Groomers may use “mirroring” and sympathy as a way of opening the door to a dialogue and getting into your child’s peer culture without provoking suspicion. 

Another warning sign is when a stranger asks too many questions about your child’s family situation. Tell your kids that it is okay to share some info, but getting into too much detail may lead to issues. Try to use real-life examples when explaining the risks. In the past, for instance, there have been cases where people have abused social networks to map the situation in different households so as to rob them later. But usually, the predator maps out the situation to continue talking to the child without getting caught. When your child replies “My parents are at home,” what is the friend’s reaction? If they suddenly end the conversation and disappear, your child should view it as a red flag and a sign to terminate the friendship.


“I really enjoy talking to you! Are you sure you´re only 12? You are so mature for your age! Hey, let´s keep it our little secret! Exciting, isn´t it?”

What is suspicious about this?
  • Inflating the child’s maturity
  • Isolating the child from their parents
  • Making the child feel “chosen”
  • Encouraging the child to keep secrets
How should your child react?

Pointing out that a child is “mature” is often the first step to bringing up mature topics and questions. While children may well view it as a huge compliment, they should know that they should not feel pressured into discussing uncomfortable topics, especially if their friend implies that they would not look as “mature“ if they refuse to continue with the conversation. 

To learn more about the inner world of the groomed child and what to do to prevent grooming, read our interview with child psychologist Jarmila Tomkova.

Urging a child to keep a conversation secret is another prominent red flag, but for children secrets are often a way of testing or strengthening their friendships, so they may not see the request as a warning sign. While it may be okay to keep a small secret – like, for example, that one friend has a crush on another – but why would anyone ask them to keep their entire friendship a secret? Your children need to know that there should be no need to hide a relationship unless there are malicious hidden intentions. Work hard to maintain a healthy and open relationship with your kids, so they will be less likely to keep secrets from you and fall for a groomer’s attempts to isolate them from others.


“Parent´s at it again? Sorry about that. Don´t worry about your mom, she is stupid anyways. At least we can talk to each other. I will always be here for you.”

What is suspicious about this?
  • Trying to make the child feel like they (the predator) are the only one who truly understands them
  • Using conflict at home to isolate the child from their parents or other reliable people in their lives
How should your child react?

Show your child what a healthy relationship should look like – ideally by maintaining a healthy relationship with them and encouraging them to build friendships with their peers. If your children have reliable friends and an understanding family, including parents and siblings but also grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, they will be less likely to let a groomer isolate them from anyone who could help in case of need. Also, let your child know that despite occasional conflicts – which happen in almost every family and even every friendship – you love them, and they can rely on you.


“Wanna get ice cream? I can pick you up from school, if you tell me where it is. Come on, you´re old enough to make your own decisions.”

What is suspicious about this?
  • Trying to collect sensitive information about the child’s whereabouts
  • Encouraging the child to act above their age
  • Arranging a secret meeting without their parent’s knowledge
How should your child react?

Talk to your children about private, semi-private and public data. When it comes to the name of their school, they should only give this information to people they fully trust. 

And what about the meeting? It is highly probable that the groomer will try to meet your child alone. They may even try to make it look like a challenge that your child should complete to show bravery or self-agency. But if your child truly wants to meet their new online friend, they should always tell you about the meeting and bring someone else with them as well. It may be a friend, a sibling or a parent, depending on age. They should also never go to places they don’t know or locations that tend to be vacant. Finally, your child should remember that there is nothing wrong with having boundaries – and that if they ever feel pressured into anything, they can always ask you for help.

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